Written by Guy Oliver http://outdoorguyuk.tumblr.com
The core staple of any fastpacking trip is clearly the backpack. Tents, bivouacs, sleeping bags and all the other kit are certainly important, but you’re going to need something to carry them in that doesn’t hinder your movement.
It would be easy to assume that finding a backpack for fastpacking would be a relatively easy affair, due to there being so many running specialist companies out there. Indeed, there are a whole load of companies making running specific packs, however they tend to focus more on either extremely lightweight water and gel carrying backpacks made for supported races, packs for carrying a small amount of kit (5-20 litres) and commuter packs made large enough to carry a small change of clothes. The number of packs in a company’s range large enough to accommodate equipment for multi-day fastpacking trips whilst being functional for a runner significantly decreases. Not to say there aren’t many, but there are much less to choose from and these larger sizes don’t seem to be as frequently stocked in sports/hiking shops in the UK.
With an extremely spartan setup, you may be able to fit your kit into a 20 or 25 litre backpack - this could be achieved with no camping mat and a bivi-bag in good weather, however I believe that 30 litres is the ideal size, at least for the kit that I’m using. Bearing that in mind, I began searching for a new backpack that would not only be big enough for multi-day trips, but also be comfortable and functional for long distance running.
After much research, I kept coming back to the Inov8 Race Pro 30. It’s not the newest backpack in their range, I believe it was launched in 2007 but don’t quote me on that, however it was the exact size that I was looking for. It was a hard decision between their newer Race Elite 24 (litre) backpack, although the extra capacity and ability to use the Inov8 Horizontal Bladder (more on that later) won the decision for me. I still intend to get the Race Elite 24 (pictured Below) however as it wins hands down on weight (291g compared to the Race Pro 30’s 702g) and I’m keen to see the difference.
Without nerding out on the tech spec too much, the Race Pro 30 is a 30 litre running backpack with a back length of 50.7cm. It was designed for long distance ultra/adventure running races, mountain marathon and trail runs, and endurance mountain bikers, for which it certainly fits the bill.
The pack features a large central compartment for storage, a weatherproof zipped compartment in the lid, two open stretch mesh outer panels for easy access, a zipped mesh storage lid, and two zippered weatherproof pockets in the waistband large enough to store multiple gels and chews, or mobile phone, keys, compasses or snacks. The pack also has the plastic fasteners allowing the option of utilising the Inov8 attachable mesh pockets, to create additional easy access space at the front of the straps. Below is a description by Inov8 of the 22 litre version to give an idea of where features are located.
A feature that Inov8 included for the Race Pack Pro 30 is the much applauded horizontal water reservoir. The reservoir sits in a separate section of the backpack that wraps around the lumbar region, offering increased stability and a lower centre of gravity for the pack. The reservoir features multiple compartments to prevent sloshing of the water and because it sits within it’s own separately zipped compartment at the bottom of the bag, is much easier to remove to refill than a vertical bladder that sits within the main compartment.
As the Race Pro 30 is an outdated model, the bladder that it was designed to carry has been discontinued, meaning that the new design bladder can not be refilled as easily without removing it, however it is still possible. I contacted Inov8 who were fast to reply to me with a great critique of the pros and cons of using the new bladder with the backpack. They were honest that it would not fit correctly, however were probably a little too honest, as when I bought mine after their reply, I found it worked considerably better than they had led me to expect.
Below are images of the discontinued blue bladder model, followed by the newer orange/black model. You can see that the blue model allows filling from the top, making for a better fit in the Race Pro series with easier refilling whilst installed, whereas the newer model is filled from the side, allowing it to be hung vertically or horizontally, but at the expense of not fitting as neatly in the older backpacks.
The horizontal bladder is amazing. I’ve used vertical bladders before and usually with a lot of frustration. The bite valves are not comfortable, you have to pull too hard, removing them to refill is awkward and water bottles are just easier. The Inov8 bladder has changed my opinion of this. My only criticism would be that I would like to have an adjustable flow rate - most bladders seem to be a little too hard to draw on and the added effort of trying to suck out an adequate amount of water whilst running can sometimes be enough to make you out of breath. Despite this, it’s still ideal for fastpacking as I rarely drink on the run. It might be a disadvantage for racing, however when fastpacking there are plenty of opportunities to slow down or take breaks to enjoy a view and have a drink. It also only weighs a tiny 130g, whilst feeling extremely robust.
In terms of looking at the Inov8 Race Pro 30 as a fastpacking backpack, I believe it would be quite hard to improve upon it. The stretch mesh pockets are amazing at keeping items of different sizes and shapes steady, the lid strap mechanism compresses the bag perfectly regardless of load size and the waist, chest and shoulder straps work wonders at keeping the bag stable when running. The capacity is fantastic and the price is incredible - I purchased mine for just over £40.
Below is an example of the amount of kit that comfortable fits in the backpack for a fastpacking trip. I usually bring warm clothes for the evenings which aren’t in the picture, but you get the idea.
My only personal criticism of the pack were that despite being quite short and stocky, I had to pull the , shoulder, waist and chest straps almost to their tightest setting. Most runners are much slimmer than I am, so I wonder how they would fare if they wanted a close fit. Separately, the shoulder straps ride close to my neck and tend to rub when I run which can be uncomfortable over long distances, although I alleviate this by wearing a buff around my neck. Inov8 have also managed to drop nearly 60% of the weight and only 6 litres capacity in the new Race Elite 24, although I suspect with a heavier load, the extra padding and robustness of the Race Pro 30 might win out. It’s also possible to remove the pad in the back to drop a little extra weight for less comfort, so there is an option.All in all, a great piece of kit, especially for the price. I’m keen to try out some of the newer Inov8 packs to see how they fare - especially as they’re even more lightweight.
The Inov8 Race Pro 30 gets a big thumbs up from me.
Links to products mentioned in this article -
Inov8 Race Pro 30 - http://www.inov-8.com/New/Global/Product-View-RacePro-30.html?L=27
Inov8 2L H20rizontal Reservoir - http://www.inov-8.com/New/Global/Product-View-Horizontal-Reservoir-SS14.html?L=26
Inov8 Mesh Pocket (not reviewed) - http://www.inov-8.com/New/Global/Product-View-Mesh-Pocket-SS14.html?L=26